Accepting the third Gilder/Coigney International Theatre Award, Adelheid Roosen addressed a full auditorium at CUNY Grad Center, Elebash Recital Hall, hosted by the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center the 23th of October 2017
Welcome, feel at home and I hope your chair feels like a birds nest.
First of all I want to thank the league of professional theatre women. Thank you, all the nominees; I experienced this week as a living dance with one another. Katrin Hilbe, Melody Brooks, I cannot thank you enough for your ongoing hard work, lovely guidance, and hard core ‘esprit’, month after month. Thanks, Linda Chapman, with ennobled grace, for nominating me. And of course the two most radiant ones Rosamond Gilder, Martha Coigney, for endowing this prize.
Also I like to welcome Dolf Hogewoning, the Consul-General of The Netherlands in NY, I truly appreciate your kind and insightful words. Thanks Vera Kuipers, from the Dutch Consulate -in charge of the Performing Arts-, for your dedication. Frank Hentschker, for this solid stage in your Segal Theatre Center. And my beloved friends in NY, Gideon Lester, you were the first knock on my heart [knock on heart], Tom Sellar [knock on heart], Melanie Joseph [knock on heart], Susan Feldman [knock on heart], and Anne-Marth Hogewoning [knock on heart], who always give me that birds nest to feel at home.
I once stumbled on the operating-instructions for an electric juicer.
I was in the rehearsal space at night, as I still needed a crucial scene for the piece of theatre we were making. A piece called ‘Kneel on your best leg.’ The play was going to be about: What is courage? How do you name the absence of it? In other words, what is so frightening about acting in accordance with your own mind? Why the hesitations to speak about this openly? To simply ask over a drink: ‘when did you lack courage this week? How come? And who did you let down as a consequence?’
Why is pointing out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes, so complicated?
The scene that I was supposed to be writing in preparation for the next day, was meant to grapple with these issues. A clash in an old friendship. A betrayal. It was to be a crucial scene, the idea was to-rant-and-rave, preferably armed. But it became instead a scene for me, the dagger aimed at myself. Because I’d found the operating instructions of the electric juicer
I was drifting that night, fretting around the rehearsal space: -started tidying up, because tidying clears the mind-, and I stumbled on the electric juicer box.
I don’t know why I even unfolded the instruction sheet, -it wasn’t beautiful or attractive, the action was mindless-, but it inspired that unexpected startling shift in me.
Point 1: Before inserting the plug into the socket, ensure that the mains voltage is the same as the voltage indicated on the underside of the engine block. This is to prevent explosion.
Point 2: The plug may not come into contact with water.
Point 3: Hold the spring, that holds the electric juicer handle upright, exactly úpright, otherwise the spring won’t have any tension and the handle won’t function.
Point 4: The rotary element may only be turned clockwise.
Point 5: If the red light at the bottom left-hand-side of the handle comes on, pull the plug out of the socket immediately to prevent a short circuit.
So detailed. So exact. So comprehensive. Such a crappy scrap of paper, but when unfolded containing a square meter of information about how to work an electric juicer.
And then something in me snapped. Why aren’t there operating instructions for people? Why aren’t we taught them at school? Why does no one teach me how to relate to myself? How to operate, how to name [several knocks on body] this? Am I the engine block or am I the current running through it?
And who can teach me whether my current connects to an Other. Thus, how to approach another person. Why does no one teach me anything about the temperament of that? And whether I can influence it, or not at all? Or is it my character? Or are we born with guilty character parts? Why isn’t there a generous vocabulary for the person who forms the exception? Described in beauty? And what is the difference between the norm and the exception? And how do I reach out to the other, if I haven’t learnt what listening is, if I have no instructions.
What is it exactly? Listening…
Is listening waiting for what I expect to hear? Is listening waiting to hear what I never heard before? Is listening the piecing together of what I selected to hear? And when do I do my thinking justice, with my thinking? And where are the instructions for that?
Am I supposed to continuously identify with myself? Am I a circle after all? A closed circuit? A route that always brings me back to me? How do I do the opposite, how do I give myself?
And how furious am I? I also realized thát with the 10 square feet electric-juicer paper explanation in 16 languages in front of me.
Furiously impatient, jealous of the apparatus for having such a sophisticated description. It’s the same with the next magnificent version of the iPhone, -truly beautiful, we all need-, the instructions are so clear that you know in no time, which buttons and functions to use. –You can even speak of a craving within us to learn to use it-, whilst I never see anyone staring at a group of people waiting for the subway, with that same craving: wow, who are you… how do you work? Where is your embrace button? How do you fit together?
My fury is: the amazing evolution of the iPhone, and our desire to interpret the latest instructions, but we are just as helpless as ever at interpreting each other.
That night in the rehearsal space, I wrote an instruction manual. About how to operate me. For you. Not as an attack. No indignation. No more self-riotous rage.
And suddenly I understood the title that I had chosen for the piece… I knelt. On my best leg. For you, the Other.
And my first point -for my operating manual- was: If there are Others, I’m the other too.
I wrote down my voltage. How much current my plug-box can take. When you can bring me into contact with water, because you can… Where you can see whether my temperature has shot up, so you know you are safe and how to keep pressure on my spring at the same time. That I am not someone who rotates clockwise, but have a natural tendency to go the other way. And when my red light is on, pull the plug to prevent me from exploding in your face.
Your call, Katrin, Melody, the Gilder/ Coigney International Theatre Award, caused a similar shift.
A prize, honors and confuses, because it always challenges.
I have already learned so much in the run up to this prize I could cry. Because you want to be able to carry a prize.
It deserves to be carried in all that it means.
I reread your honoring words, and those of Linda Chapman who caught the echo. For that, deep thanks.
And yes, fearlessly, tirelessly, consistently building is what I do. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, build the change you want to see. When I open my eyes every morning, I see the unparalleled beauty of this world, hidden as talent, in all things. Wanting to kiss awake, wanting to flirt with, wanting to capture the talent of being human, in each of us, is what drives my art.
But what do I destroy in action as I go? How consistent am I in that? How consistent is my impatience? And my irritation, anger, born out of my impatience? And how humane is it?
How does my work-process unfold as I realize my vision? How do I treat the world in action? Is the art not, to perfect the making of the art, as art? (And I don’t mean, is art democratic, because it’s not). But how do I create a work-process, which expresses exactly what the finished work shows.
In brief, Adelheid, how prize-worthy are you?
I discovered that my work vocabulary was peppered with terms like hunting, staying in line, leading the troops, an army of love, but still, an army. And a military time schedule is at the basis of my production UrbanSafari. Military schedule, I love that term.
Was I interrogating my team like soldiers?
And so, from the day that you called me last spring up until this moment, the prize has unfurled itself as a quest. This journey itself has become your gift to me.
It reminded me of something someone in prison once said to me, a young Kurdish migrant who I interviewed for a piece I was writing about honor killings, -which he had executed on his sister- ‘I have to make New eyes’, he said, “I have to make New seeing’. And he cried. Too late.
Yes, every day we have to make New eyes, we have to make New seeing. New operating instructions for not being too late. And thank each other over and over again for the glorious -but still dangerous moment- that our eyes meet, or when they meet other eyes in a subway station. To do a dangerous thing… as Bukowski said: “to do a dangerous thing with style, is what I call art”.
Thank you very much for this honor.
From the Global to the Personal
What It Takes to Found the Only U.S. Award Given to a Non-U.S. Woman Theatre Practitioner: A first hand account by Maxine Kern
International Connections Among Women in Theatre: The Gilder/Coigney International Theatre Award.
Approximately twelve years ago I had a dream. Many elements came together in this dream. Among these elements were my desire for affirmation of women lives and aspirations and recognition of women’s contributions centered in empathy, nurture, intuition and spontaneity within the discipline of theater. It seemed to me however, that the bonding between women in theater and elsewhere was at best elusive in the US, yet, quite present in the theater making that I observed in my travels abroad.
Ironically, whenever I met a non – US theater artist from France, England, Australia, Prague, Egypt, Canada, I met artists, male and female, who wanted to connect with theater in the US and specifically in NYC. Clearly a marriage was meant to take place. The why’s and wherefores of this international interest were as ambiguous as the reasons any of us marry, but there was clearly a desire for economic gain (everybody picturing themselves on Broadway), affairs of the heart, (a desire to share and affirm ones spiritual, emotional existence) and a general need for affirmation and connection above and beyond one’s own community. The big question was whether I and others in The League were at all interested in making this marriage and connection of sisters abroad.
One day during a LPTW board meeting when nominees for our awards in the upcoming season were suggested, mention was made of a woman doing excellent theater working with marginalized communities on the outskirts of London. I was all for recognizing her work among our awards, however, because she was “foreign” her nomination was rejected.
I couldn’t understand why. What were the problems? I asked around, turns out that there were many.
- Economic: how do we as an organization fund travel, foreign money exchange, and the bookkeeping involved?
- Self-protection: Why should we as underserved US women theatre artists, give away our precious resources to women in other countries?
- Nationalistic: What sort of diplomatic snafus would we encounter with governments of oppression who might block our encounters with radical theater sisters risking their lives on a daily basis; or what governments of oppression might actually be behind our choices of theater women who are in fact merely propaganda vehicles in our combined worlds?
- Aesthetic: Was there actually well-crafted work by women when so little opportunity existed for women to be trained in their theaters abroad.
These dilemmas tended to prevail in our League perspective about International Award giving. They prevailed at the LPTW Board level and at LPTW Award Committee level. Both the Board and the Awards Committee eventually let the International Committee know that if such an award would be pursued, the International Committee would have to make a commitment to support it alone.
Concurrently, two women joined the International Committee with a great deal of interest and confidence in all international efforts. One woman was part of an off- Broadway theater company that had made a recent exploration and commitment to expand its involvement in international theater, another was a woman director who had relocated from London to NYC bringing her commitment and training in two cultures into the NYC scene. Both women shared the enthusiasm of a few of us on the committee, in creating and giving a Woman in Theatre’s International award. Their voices in the LPTW International Committee were strong and the idea of this award, was now brought, once again to the fore.
With a great deal of doubt and hesitancy, the committee agreed to put this award on our agenda for the next meeting. For that meeting it was determined members would speak individually about objections or enthusiasms towards it. Mainly objections about the value of finding and honoring women abroad were voiced one by one until we reached committee member, Martha Coigney, for whom the present award is in part named. Simply put, Martha stated “I think all theater artists are heros”. The tone of the roundtable changed. A bit of “woke” was in the air. No longer questioning the worthiness of the award itself, objections became reduced to one alone. Who were we as American women from NYC to think that we cumulatively could find enough international women theater “heros” to even begin such an award process? This became the mandate for our next meeting.
We were given three months to try to come up with nominees before making other attempts to move forward. We reached out to embassies, pooled who we knew from our travels, asked our international affiliates to recommend others as well as themselves, banged on every League member’s door for their recommendations. After three months, and twenty-one nominations, the LPTW International Committee was unanimous. Coming in from Boston that night, I ran late to the meeting, but had sent our findings by email to the group. We had twenty-one strong nominees. The committee waited for me to start, and they all stood up and applauded when I arrived. Already as women making theater, we were bonded and affirmed, ready to change our perspective of who we are, what we value, who we could be in the larger world.
Then the process of how to go about it all began. We formed a subcommittee to head up the effort. As a committee we established criteria, established voting and counting procedures, reached out for donations, were surprised when members of our committee donated significant amounts of money from their personal funds in the name of wanting to give back from their own theater awards and rewards to the betterment of others internationally.
One of the many decisions that we made as a committee was to hold the award every three years, giving us time to prepare and to recover from the effort of creating this magical connection between women artists across the globe. (The only such award given then world – wide, and even now in 2017).
Three awards have been given.
In 2011 to: “KiKi” Odile Gakire Katasee in Rwanda for among other performance events, creating a woman’s drum core that included the grown children of both the victims and the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide 16 years earlier.
In 2014 to: Patricia Ariza who created dramas that included professional actors with the people of Columbia who were otherwise, powerless and invisible within a corrupt and facist state.
This past October, in 2017 to: Adelheid Roosen , whose adoption technique creates theater by adopting “the other”, empathizing with another being from within one’s own reactions and deepest being. Adopting the reality of the deepest soul of “the other” from within the deepest soul of oneself.
All three women Gilder/Coigney Award winners have brought us theater of empathy and interaction with “the other.” All three women associate very deeply with their country and their people, while challenging the norms of their society to put another hitherto marginalized population into the dramatic spotlight.
Every three years the number of nominees has remained consistent. Every three years the International Committee has developed panels for the nominees, interviews and presentations by the award winner who receives a cash stipend of $1,000 and transportation, and housing for the week of the award presentation. Every three years there is a day of education and presentation of her theater making by the awarded woman, followed that evening by a beautiful gala award ceremony, and a joyful party that celebrates us all.
A dream of crossing borders to create connection, of sharing our realities at home with other theater makers in very different homes has become a reality. We’ve learned about innovative outreach to audiences and a deeper sense of community from the theater makers who have shown their work to us from abroad. We have overcome fears of risking what we have in the service of others. We have been inspired by the creation of a theater based on a woman’s natural gifts of empathy and nurture, that has found it’s value and it’s way from a dream to a cherished reality.
The International Award is given in the name of Rosamond Gilder and Martha Coigney. Both women had created an international advocacy institution called ITI (International Theater Institute). Established during the era of the cold war, ITI united Eastern and Western theater makers in-spite of an “iron curtain” between bitter enemies who favored division among nations. The League of Professional Theatre Women is benefitting from their example and the example of this award which advocates for women everywhere in a very real lifetime full of inspiration, excitement and great bravery, thanks to the values we as woman can share and celebrate together.
MAXINE KERN (Playwright/Dramaturg): was Co-President of The League of Professional Theatre Women, and on the artistic staff of McCarter Theater, The New York Shakespeare Public Theater, New Georges, The George St Playhouse, Company One Theater, New Dramatists, Inc, The Negro Ensemble Theater and DiverseCity Theater. Her plays include, “Emily’s Will” & “Totems” based on the life of Canadian artist Emily Carr; workshopped by The Tempest Ladies/The Wild Banchees, “Dostoyevsky”, a play about two sisters facing the magical unknown on a starry night, presented by Cosmic Orchid, and “Red Emma” based on the life of social activist Emma Goldman, presented by Parity Productions. Red Emma received an Award for Outstanding Playwriting in the Global Connections Festivity. She has been a lecturer at SUNY StonyBrook, and Columbia University.
As a member of LPTW she has been Co Chair of Julia’s Reading Room, The International Committee, The Gilder/Coigney International Theatre Award, and on the LPTW Board.